A new relationship with animals, nature and each other.

The Great Bunny Rescue

Bunnies are funny – and that’s no joke

By Michael Mountain

A comment on the rabbit rescue drama currently unfolding on the campus of the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.

The first bunny rescue I was involved in was in 1998 at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. We got a call from a woman in Las Vegas, who explained that her situation had become “a little out of control,” that she’d started off with three bunnies the previous year and that there were now about 150 in her backyard.

We drove down to Vegas (about 250 miles from the sanctuary), and counted 167 rabbits.

“Why didn’t you get them neutered?” we asked. “I didn’t know you could do that,” she replied.

Two days later, we returned with a truck and loaded up 177 rabbits. When, we unloaded it at the sanctuary four hours later, there were now 185.

While racing to get ahead of nature taking its course, there was a certain element of humor to the rapid growth in numbers –some light-hearted jokes about rabbit reproduction that helped break the stress of the whole situation. Our veterinarian, faced with spay/neutering hundreds of rabbits (more were still being born), got himself a new e-mail address with the handle “drbunnyman.”

“The judge thought it was a big joke that anyone would be paying attention to rabbits.”

But all this was nothing compared to a situation, eight years later, when a woman in Reno, Nevada, called for help. The situation, when we arrived, was grim: more than 1,200 rabbits, barely able to move around in the small backyard and under the trailer. They were burrowing underground, and hopping – in some cases dragging themselves – around the house. Many were sick and injured and the whole scene was a disaster.

It was a race against time, renting land for a temporary rescue center, bringing in fencing and housing, setting up a veterinary center and making staff accommodation.

The local authorities told us they’d rescued rabbits from this woman before. She was a classic animal hoarder, and, a few years earlier, the animal control department had taken her to court to ask for a ruling that would stop her from collecting and breeding more rabbits. But the judge had literally laughed the matter out of court, saying that it was a big joke that anyone would be paying attention to rabbits.

I ran into similar laughter on talk shows around the country. Some of it was well-meaning, but there were also jokes about bunny stew and fur coats. If it had been dogs or cats, there would have been none of that. But rabbits …

There have been similar jokes about the rabbit rescue currently taking place around the University of Victoria in Canada. Some of these, too, are unpleasant, but there are also some warm-hearted chuckles from the people who do care about the rabbits and are working so hard to save them.

So, what is it that invokes this touch of humor? Perhaps it stems from the fact that there’s something slightly ambivalent in our whole relationship to rabbits.

While they are the third most common pet in the United States, behind cats and dogs, most rabbits are not born to be pets; they are born wild and remain wild. Others are born, raised and sold to be food. And a very large number (it’s almost impossible to get an accurate count) are born to be used in cruel, invasive, laboratory experiments.

“Rabbit icons were once all part of the annual spring celebrations of rebirth and sexuality.”

Another thing is that thousands of years before we humans ever took in rabbits as pets, they were thought of as symbols of fertility. In pre-Christian versions of Easter, for example, rabbit icons and symbology were all part of the annual spring celebrations of rebirth and sexuality. Today, that tends to be a topic that we’re a bit ambivalent around. We joke about it, we’re preoccupied with it, we’re repressed around it, and it keeps reminding us that, for all our human pretensions, we’re animals, too. And that may be part of how rabbits can throw us a little off-balance.

From baby bunnies to cartoon bunnies to energizer bunnies, rabbits are cute and whimsical, and their whiskers twitch. But while they’re adorable, they need all the same long-term care as any other pet. And when the fun of a super-cute Easter Bunny purchase wears off, rabbits often find themselves being dropped off at a convenient dumping spot– like, in this case, on the grounds of the University of Victoria.

And that’s no joke.